|Once-woeful bullpen suddenly a strength for Kansas City|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 24 May 2007 21:32|
Even after Thursday night's series finale loss to Cleveland, the Royals have won four of their last five games and eight of 11. Of those wins, six have belonged to relievers.
Joakim Soria, the fill-in closer, has 10 saves in 13 opportunities. Zack Greinke, who struggled as a starter after spending almost all of last season out of the majors, has five straight scoreless relief outings - a span of 8 1-3 innings - and has given the bullpen a shot of energy.
And the Royals' expected closer, Octavio Dotel, didn't pitch until this week because of a strained left oblique sustained in spring training. If he can shake off his early rust and take the closer's role, that will free Soria to be a setup man with experience in close games.
All in all, it's a dramatic turnaround for a bullpen that blew a majors-worst 31 saves in 2006.
``I wouldn't want to compare yesterday and today,'' Indians manager Eric Wedge said Thursday. ``But when you look at what they've got down there today, they've got some strike throwers. They've got some guys with good stuff, and they've got some guys who can give you some length. That's what you're looking for.''
One key, reliever Jimmy Gobble said Wednesday, is that the Royals' relievers are being used in the right situations.
``You have to credit the coaching staff with how they've been working the bullpen,'' said Gobble, who has two of his three victories during the recent surge. ``It's been working out really well.
``Last night, we used four pitchers in the seventh inning, and it worked great,'' Gobble said. ``We're picking each other up with runners on now.''
It's easier to make the right choice when his relievers throw well, manager Buddy Bell said.
``They really determine what role they're in,'' Bell said. ``How well they're throwing, how many strikes they're throwing and what kind of stuff they have, determines how they'll fit in the bullpen.
``Last year, we didn't have a lot of guys throwing strikes,'' Bell added. ``We weren't really sure when to bring someone in.''
It also helps, he said, that pitchers who used to be in the rotation - Gobble and Greinke among them - haven't treated bullpen duty like a demotion.
``One thing about our team which I like, probably more than other teams we've had since I've been here,'' he said, ``is that our guys are really concerned about contributing - whether it's in the starting rotation, whether it's in the bullpen.''
That wasn't always been the case, Bell said.
``I don't want to say there was bad chemistry,'' he said, ``but there was some immature stuff we had to deal with. This year, the guys care about contributing - and when you get to that point, you're pretty comfortable.''
And when a team is comfortable in its bullpen, center fielder David DeJesus said, that relaxes the offense in the late innings of a tight game.
``Last year, the year before, when it was close at the end, the mind-set of everyone was that, 'Oh, somehow we're going to lose the game,'' DeJesus said. ``Now, everyone's stepping up. No matter who's coming up in the lineup, no matter which guy's coming out of the pen, we're all relying on each other to get the job done.
``That's a great feeling.''